Senators Set To Launch Probe Into PAGCOR Auditor Deal

January 26, 2023
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Philippine lawmakers have renewed an attack on PAGCOR, with senators preparing to launch a Senate investigation into the gambling regulator’s contract with its online gaming auditor.

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Philippine lawmakers have renewed an attack on PAGCOR, with senators preparing to launch a Senate investigation into the gambling regulator’s contract with its online gaming auditor.

Ways and Means Committee chairperson Senator Sherwin Gatchalian told CNN Philippines on Tuesday (January 24) that “definitely there is malfeasance” at PAGCOR and alleged that the bidding process for the auditor involved “highly questionable acts”.

“We will pursue that investigation through the Blue Ribbon Committee,” Gatchalian said.

Senators on Monday and Tuesday (January 23 and 24) questioned PAGCOR officials in committee, in scenes similar to a lengthy dressing down of the regulator in November.

Gatchalian started his attack on the contract with online gambling auditor Global ComRCI at that time, extracting from PAGCOR staffers an admission that the auditing platform does not identify countries of origin of online customers despite PAGCOR requiring that overseas players abide by their nations’ laws.

On Monday, Gatchalian led a new offensive against PAGCOR and its 6bn peso ($110m) contract with the company, alleging that its capitalisation is certified with an unregistered bank.

He also alleged that the auditor and PAGCOR are undercounting the revenue of foreign-facing online gambling operators (POGOs).

Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr backed Gatchalian and filed a resolution on Tuesday to launch the investigation into Global ComRCI, alleging the company “has no office, lacks capital, has not been paying taxes, is not registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Securities and Exchange Commission and has not complied with” the terms of reference of its bid.

Gatchalian and Pimentel are two of a growing number of senators calling for POGOs to be abolished, with other senators this week again demanding that all online gambling be banned, including nascent domestic operations.

Leftist senator France Castro on Tuesday warned that POGOs could be infiltrated by Chinese criminals or even Chinese government or military elements and subvert Philippine sovereignty through “covert operations”.

Other senators and some leading media outlets are also calling time on the theory that POGOs provide essential tax revenue to the nation, with senator Alan Peter Cayetano saying online gambling has harmed the nation’s reputation and generated extensive criminality “rather than benefiting the economy”.

The Philippine Star newspaper editorialised on Wednesday whether, after all the negative press, POGOs still “hold sentimental value”.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr “has said he wants to be presented with convincing reason[s] to completely ban POGOs”, according to the editorial.

“Senators have unearthed more than enough reasons to drop POGOs for good,” it said.

PAGCOR continued to resist the attacks on its propriety and POGOs in general on Tuesday, even as it announced that a review of Global ComRCI is nearly complete.

“With the assumption of the new leadership of PAGCOR, the contract of Global ComRCI was put under review last September 2022. We assure the senators that the review will soon be finished and released at the proper time,” it said in a statement.

The statement added that POGOs employ around 25,000 Filipinos and the industry “contributes billions of pesos to the local economy”.

“It is PAGCOR’s aim to nurture this industry as it believes it has much more to contribute to the Philippine economy and nation building.”

Meanwhile, PAGCOR rebutted lawmaker and media allegations of new kidnapping incidents targeting POGO employees.

The regulator’s statement said an inter-agency review had confirmed that no such incidents had been reported “for over three months”.

Thirteen kidnapping cases, involving mostly Myanmar nationals and tied to online gambling service provider MOA Cloudzone Corp, high-profile online gaming venture Oriental Group and Shuang Ma Company, were dropped by the Department of Justice in November, dismissing a complaint by the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center.

Instead, the Department of Justice found probable cause to indict a single female foreign national over the human trafficking activity.

However, PAGCOR noted that another registered POGO service provider, Brickhartz Technology Inc, is still being investigated over kidnapping allegations.

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